Securing the Baby
Infant security programs: a safe way to differentiate your hospital
- By Joel Harris
- Apr 01, 2011
One of the greatest scenes in a hospital is that of newborns coming
into the world. If you have been to a hospital recently, however,
you may have noticed a change in policy in regard to the nursery.
Gone are the days of people visiting the maternity ward just to
see the newborns.
Hospitals, like the rest of society, are susceptible to crime’s ever-increasing
rates, and threats on various fronts continue to present challenges to healthcare
institutions. Recognizing that children are our most valuable resource, healthcare
facilities have been forced to increase security, changing the open-door policy they
have practiced for decades.
An Open Door
Hospitals are easier targets for crime because they are open to the public 24 hours
a day, seven days a week. In most cases, hospitals are community institutions
available to all who who enter seeking treatment. Visitors may find some restrictions,
but most employees of these facilities have been conditioned over time to
allow scores of people from all walks of life to enter their institutions unchallenged,
day or night.
This mindset does not consider that society’s criminal element does hold similar
values as the general population. According to the National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children, as many as 10 children are abducted from hospitals by
non-family members each year, making up 47 percent of infant abductions in the
United States. These statistics show the need for infant security systems in healthcare
facilities. Education, staff support and program quality assurance testing are
vital in addressing the needs of hospital security.
Combined with advances in technology, infant abduction prevention systems
are an effective solution to this problem. Unfortunately, because of the continuing
threat, it’s no longer possible even to view the newborns in many facilities.
Another significant challenge in providing security for hospitals is their inherently
open architectural design. Hospitals have been traditionally designed to satisfy
patients and to promote an atmosphere conducive to healing. Security concerns
were, by and large, not taken into consideration.
Retrofitting security in an older facility is a nightmare, not to mention unbelievably
expensive. Strict adherence to other mandates has also made implementing
a security system a challenge. For instance, strict enforcement of fire codes prevents
hospitals from securing exits, which leaves escape routes for anyone in a hospital.
On the bright side, these municipal mandates are being replaced currently
with more patient security-centric laws that will allow fire exits to be locked and
alarmed by a time-delay lock and alarm system. This type of security protocol
can prevent unauthorized people from entering or leaving the hospital undetected.
Infant protection systems are one of the latest technologies that provide additional
protection to newborns, starting the moment of birth. Most infant protection
systems use a radio frequency technology that monitors the baby’s presence
within a protected area. One device is attached to the baby’s wrist or leg, and the
second is attached to the mother’s wrist while still in the delivery room.
Should a mother be given an incorrect baby, an alarm will sound immediately.
The tags also emit a recurring electronic heartbeat to ensure the baby’s tag is still
properly affixed; if the tag is removed improperly or tampered with, an alarm will
sound. The most critical feature of this system is the predefined protected area,
which interacts with the baby’s tag via the exits or elevators within this area.
Should a baby’s tag be detected at a protected exit or elevator, these systems
trigger alarms, which also immediately lock the door or disable the elevator to prevent
an abduction. Research has noted the importance of not separating the baby
and possible abductor from the staff. With the implementation of these systems,
nurses and other staff will need training on responding to alarms based on the
The staff also should continue current practices, including line-of-sight supervision
when a parent or family member is not available. They also can incorporate
physical security, access control and CCTV, as well as staff and parental education
in the maternity and pediatric units. All of these are pieces of a proper infant
Hospitals must take the threat of infant abductions seriously. Facilities that do not
implement preventive measures could see a hard-earned reputation lost in an instant;
what’s more, hospitals that provide less-than-reasonable security for mothers
and babies face significant exposure to litigation.
Infant protection systems not only provide an additional sense of well-being,
but they also serve as facility differentiators. During pregnancy, many families are
now seeking hospitals that provide this additional layer of security.
Developing a Hospital Security Program
Patient-centered care is a buzzword around healthcare facilities today. In fact, you
will find few facilities not practicing some definition of the term. It is this variance
in definition that yields the variety of practiced concepts. In all cases and interpretations
of the term patient-centered care, however, one of the most important
components is patient security.
Healthcare, like every other business, is subject to competition, as consumerism
has changed the traditional view of hospitals. Today’s hospitals resemble elite
hotels, and many are even hiring hospitality staff to help facilitate that vision.
Hospitals have a responsibility to take reasonable action to prevent foreseeable
harm to those in its care. The lack thereof can not only have considerable effects
on the hospital’s revenue, it also could cost the hospital even more in litigation
The first thing a hospital should do is to have a healthcare security professional
conduct a threat assessment that identifies and analyzes vulnerabilities across the
facility. After the initial security audit, the hospital should develop a cross-functional
team to begin planning.
The team must develop a procedure to cancel an infant abduction code other
than simply calling the switchboard. Proper deployment of infant protection systems
requires feedback and planning from multiple departments to ensure full
effectiveness. Security, information technology, plant operations, nursing management,
material management and finance departments all have key roles in implementing
and optimizing the system.
During implementation, the development team’s focus is on the alarm operations:
alarm notification, network bandwidth requirements, and door and elevator
interfaces. These components ensure that hospital staff will be alerted if an
infant is moved outside of established safe perimeters. The installation process is
finalized when the team reaches a consensus about these parameters; approves a
design; and procures, installs and certifies a system.
The job does not end there, though. The cross-functional team will need to constantly
test different parts of the abduction-prevention plan, examining the plan
on all shifts and varying scenarios to scrutinize all elements of the plan.
An often overlooked aspect of the process is the education and usage of the
system after its installation. All written security management programs should be
reinforced with education and training of the full staff. A good start is to make
employees aware of the threat of infant abduction both nationally and locally, and
to provide some history around the occurrences.
Protocols and Procedures
Detailed protocols for each level of
employee on the prevention of and response
to infant abductions should be
built around the new technology and
shared with the staff. Communication
to the staff through a comprehensive
training program will strengthen the
protocols hospital-wide. While best
practices emphasize sharing the information
across the entire team, each
group will be counted on to do its part.
Once implemented, technological safeguards
should be re-examined to keep
potential abductors at bay, and layers
of security to back up each point of
emphasis should be developed.
Work with vendors to develop procedures
that decrease the number of
false alarms, and pass that information
on to staff. Analyze all false alarms for
recurring problems, and change staff
procedures to address those concerns.
A good security partner will be able to
provide preventive maintenance services
around checking your equipment
and systems for false alarms. Continual
false alarms wear on maternity ward
staff and could cause complacency that
can contribute to decreased security.
Good vendors also will be able to
put you in contact with other hospitals
to develop infant abduction drills
using each other’s staff. Security team
members who act as abductors during
drills will know the safeguards in place
and be better able to point out security
Of all the elements that make up
a hospital’s security program, parent
education is probably the most important.
Knowing the history of infant abductions,
and the modus operandi of
the typical abductor, could provide critical
information should an abduction
occur. Every successful infant security
program should include parental education,
including protocols, technology
overview and physical measure assessment
Hospitals have a responsibility to
provide a safe and secure environment
for new mothers and infants. A minimally
obtrusive electronic security system
with clearly defined security policies
that are reinforced with education
and training for hospital employees,
staff and, most importantly, new moms,
will go a long way toward minimizing
abductions and providing a valued differentiator
for your facility.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Security Today.